By Dylan Medina and Mariana Grohowski
On Veterans Day we should pause for a moment to not only thank veterans for their service, but also to reflect on what we do everyday to live that gratitude for their service. The VFW argues, [e]ach citizen must work to ensure that America fulfills its promise to provide our veterans with the benefits and entitlements they’ve earned and deserve.” They continue to remind us “[o]ur veterans deserve our lasting gratitude and respect.” The key here is “lasting,” which means we must extend our concern for veterans beyond the holiday. In general, this means creating social spaces that are welcoming to veterans regardless of our opinions about the military decisions of the country, and delegating the resources necessary to support veterans’ transition into and lives in those spaces. For scholars and teachers this means approaching our work with concern for veterans both in our studies and in our classes.
In the past five years, Composition Studies has become increasingly concerned with veterans, but the field has a historical legacy of showing gratitude for veterans’ service. In fact, CCCC’s late founder, John C. Gerber organized the first CCCC in 1949, as a reaction to the “sudden influx of veterans on the GI Bill” (Lloyd-Jones, “In Memoriam” 221) after World War II. The over two million student veterans that pursued higher education after WW II prompted major changes to college composition instruction (Bond; “In Memory” 22; Lebduska). Gerber responded to the unique needs and abilities student veterans brought to college campuses in general, and composition courses in particular.
During and after the Vietnam War, James Berlin and Richard Ohmann advocated the importance of discussing the politics of war in the Composition classroom and in published scholarship. A noted concern in both Berlin and Ohmann’s work was on the social and cultural influences of the Vietnam war on Composition instruction. As Ohmann put it, “English classrooms are the front line of culture” (23); ignoring the “reality” of the war’s influence on Composition instruction was something both scholars worked hard to combat–an effort CCCC picked up on in their 2003 resolution 3 to “encourage communication about war.” Because war and the U.S. military can facilitate politically-charged conversations, contemporary Composition scholars have shifted away from an explicit discussion on war and U.S. military conflicts, back to Gerber’s vision of accommodating student veterans. These efforts were most notably ushered in by Marilyn Valentino in her 2010 CCCC Chair’s Address, but were furthered by the efforts of D. Alexis Hart and Roger Thompson’s CCCC White Paper, as well as the CCCC Veteran’s Task Force and their position statement on working with student veterans.
While all of this has been done at the disciplinary level, we can go forward considering what we can do as teachers and scholars to make room for veterans and their experiences in our classrooms, and we can work publicly toward the fulfillment of the promise our society has made to the members who have served.